Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands. We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today. We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work. (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).
If there’s an actor more maddening and frustrating to movie lovers than Johnny Depp, I can’t come up with a name. Depp is, undeniably, monumentally talented. He’s preternaturally gifted at physical comedy, drama and every nuance to be found between the two. From his first film Friday the 13th, to his breakout stardom on TV in 21 Jump Street, Depp moved from teen idol to eclectic indie film star. He was rather notorious for never doing blockbuster films. Then, in 2003, a movie based on a ride at Disneyland of all things catapulted him into mega-stardom and, simultaneously, began a chain of events that have laid low his entire career.
Depp’s best film, in my opinion, still remains his 1990 breakout hit with Tim Burton (much more on that partnership later), Edward Scissorhands. Tragic and beautiful and unbelievably odd, it remains a classic; a confluence of two talents (Burton and Depp) at the beginning of their respective creative peaks. This film sits in shrink-wrap on my shelf at home because my wife finds it so sad that we can’t even unwrap it, let alone watch it. Yet we had to own it…. I digress.In 1993 Depp made a very solid film with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape along with future star Leonardo DiCaprio (though I’m not as enamored of it as most critics). What I do love that he made that year, and I think is his second best performance, is Benny and Joon. What a joy of a film. This simple love story about mentally ill girl who falls in love with an eccentric wanderer has one of my favorite scenes of all time. Depp in the park with the hat. It’s Chaplinesque, in that it’s as good as anything Chaplin ever did. It may be the most astounding demonstration of physical magic I’ve ever seen onscreen.In 1994, Depp and Burton reteamed to tell the story of the worst film maker ever, Ed Wood. Depp received a Golden Globe nomination for the film, but I’ve never cared for it and the parts that I do are Martin Landau’s (who won an Oscar as Bela Lugosi). In 1997, Depp made perhaps the most underrated film of his career, starring in a hard-boiled crime drama, Donnie Brasco. The film, about an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the highest levels of the mafia teamed Depp with Al Pacino, both of whom delivered fantastic performances and showed Depp’s dramatic range. If the film had been released in November instead of March, it would have gotten the Oscar attention it deserved.
I hate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with the intensity of a white dwarf star (look it up….hot) so we’ll just ignore that ever happened and jump ahead to the NEXT Burton and Depp pairing: Sleepy Hollow. A lot of people didn’t like this film, but I thought the film worked and everything about it was gorgeous. You can, however, begin to see in the tics and tremors he inserted into Ichabod Crane’s detective (rather than the school teacher from Irving’s story), foreboding warnings of what we’ll call Burtondeppitis.Then came Captain Jack Sparrow and everything changed. Pirates of the Caribbean sounded like an awful idea. A movie about a theme park ride? And a pirate movie? Pirate movies never worked! Then the reviews started coming in that this was something special, and special it was. The latter films may have tarnished the original for some people, but it remains one of the best action/adventure films I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect film containing one of the most iconic performances of the last quarter century. Captain Jack Sparrow is an indelible character; hilarious and cunning (something the second and third films forgot…Jack’s not stupid) Sparrow became an instant living Disney icon to the point where the very ride the movie was based on was revised to insert his character. Capt. Jack also earned Depp his first-ever Oscar nomination.The latter Pirates films….you would think they were developed by different people. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were directed by and written by the same people who directed and wrote Curse of the Black Pearl, but it’s like the completely didn’t get the things that worked in their own first film. If it had been one movie instead of two, focused on Davy Jones (who had a really good storyline), ditched all the voodoo idiocy (let’s not even mention MULTIPLE JACKS in film three) and not treated Jack like a bumbling fool then they would have had something. People are split on the fourth film: On Stranger Tides, but I thought it was a real return to form, to the point that I’m looking forward to Dead Men Tell No Tales in 2016.
The last really great film that Johnny Depp has made, in my opinion, was 2004’s Finding Neverland. Depp plays Peter Pan author James M. Barrie who befriends a single mother and her children who inspire him to write his masterpiece. I, in no way, believe it has any basis in reality, but I don’t care. It’s a wonderful film and Depp is understated and nuanced and, wait for the last time you’ll hear this, restrained. Depp was again nominated for an Oscar for the film.Mmmmkay. Burtondeppitis reached Ebola-like status with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which attempted to …..ok I have to be honest. I have no idea what the film was attempting to do other than enrage, irritate and revolt me. Burton and Depp have reached a point where I don’t think they can work together and push themselves to a better place. I think they push themselves backward and DOWN. I don’t want to be overly negative and dwell on a film I hate as much as any I can think of, but it’s key in that it marks the beginning of Depp’s current paradigm.I will give Burton and Depp this: they did manage to do a fairly good adaptation of a musical I don’t care for: Sweeney Todd. The real star of the film is Helena Bonham Carter, but the rampant excess remained tamped down and Depp received his third and most-recent Oscar nomination for Best Actor.Ahhhhh….futterwacken. Johnny Depp playing the Mad Hatter seems like an awesome idea and, despite all my prejudices I was really digging Burton and Depp’s take on Carroll’s tale….until the last ten minutes of the film had me looking for Jar Jar Binks to wander onscreen and just make the slide into self-indulgence complete.
Depp’s current rut (I talked about this more in my Transcendence review) is that he seems to either be full, balls-out crazy or totally and completely monotone with no middle ground to be found. Transcendence is one example of the extreme, you can read my Lone Ranger review for an example of the self-indulgent other.
Let’s check out Depp’s last 10 film’s and get his Latest score:
DEPP’S LATEST TEN:
1. Transcendence (2014)……………5.50
2. The Lone Ranger (2013)…………1.25
3. Dark Shadows (2012)……………..5.75
4. 21 Jump Street (2012)……………8.00
5. The Rum Diary (2011)…………….3.25
6. Pirates of the Caribbean:……….8.00
On Stranger Tides (2011)
7. Rango (2011)…………………………….3.00
8. The Tourist (2011)…………………..3.50
9. Alice in Wonderland (2010)…..7.75
10. Public Enemies (2009)………….5.75
DEPP’S CURRENT AVERAGE: 5.175
LOWEST CURRENT SCORE TO DATE
I don’t know that there’s much more to say about “THE RUT” than I already have other than that I hated Rango and everyone else didn’t seem to, which puzzles me, but that’s my call. One fantastic thing he did do was pull off one of the best cameos in recent film memory when he showed up in the film reboot of 21 Jump Street. That was uttter brilliance.
Another great performance of his that followed shortly after Pirates 1 so I think it got overlooked was his CIA operative in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Hilarious, ultimately tragic, brilliant Depp. It raised the whole El Mariachi climax so high I put it in his 10 best films. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend it.DEPP’S GREATEST TEN
1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)………………10.00
2. Pirates of the Caribbean:
The Curse of the Black Pearl (2002)………10.00
3. Finding Neverland (2004)…………………….9.75
4. Benny and Joon (1993)…………………………9.50
5. Donnie Brasco (1997)……………………………9.25
6. Platoon (1986)………………………………………..8.75
7. Sweeney Todd (2007)……………………………8.00
8. 21 Jump Streeet (2011)………………………..8.00
9. Alice in Wonderland (2010)…………………7.75
10. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)..7.50
DEPP’S GREATEST AVERAGE: 8.850
Depp’s greatest average is comparable to Christian Bale’s in terms of quality of the best films of their career. The difference is that Bale’s star seems on a steady rise and Depp’s seems on a puzzling decline.
This year, Depp will star in London Fields and play the Wolf in the adaptation of Into the Woods. 2015 he already has two interesting films lined up in Mortdecai and Black Mass (about the establishment of the FBI’s witness protection program). 2016 will see him revisit his Disney roots with Through the Looking Glass and Pirates 5.
Depp is enormously talented. That’s just undeniable. He’s also incredibly self-indulgent and seems to be lacking career inspiration at the moment. The leaden man I saw in Transcendence was not the same man who gave Captain Jack Sparrow one of the greatest entrances in film history or kicked a hat around a park in Benny and Joon. I so hope he can pull out of this nose dive with the six films he has planned over these next three years. I miss having him at the top of his game, because-when he is-he’s as good as anyone.